Catcalling: Tearing Down the Wall

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I’m going to take a break from the usual talk about movies, TV, and comics, to start discussing another all-encompassing nerd topic: dating and romance.  Or specifically, dysfunctional dating and how it has hurt our society.

Catcalling and street harassment is a trending topic I had been wanting to blog about for a while, yet in only the last few months this discussion has reached an all-time high.  Almost everything that can be said on this topic has already been articulated.  This week, the release of this infamous video finally got the world to sit up and take notice:

This video has really been a watershed moment.  Throughout social media yesterday I saw it come up again and again, with many men exposing sudden misogyny and people suddenly unfriending one another over comments being made.

INTRODUCTION TO CATCALLING

In New York City, women experience these comments everyday.  As others before me have written, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem.  It’s more than just a rude social comment; it’s a display of objectification and entitlement.  I’ve seen many men have a knee-jerk reaction and immediately come to defense.  The common response given is “It’s not harassment; it’s flattery.  I wish I had strangers constantly tell me I’m attractive.”  And I’ve even heard one or two women say the same thing (yes, there are Uncle Toms, or Aunt Tomasinas, in this debate).  But that’s besides the point.  It’s irrelevant if some women do in fact like it; there’s always going to be people who like anything.  What matters is that women who most certainly don’t like it and didn’t invite it must endure it, and with it, fear being threatened or worse.  Some women are assaulted and murdered after being harassed by men on the street.

“But what’s wrong with saying a simple innocuous greeting on the street to a female?” some men may ask.  Here is a recent comment I read on a Facebook thread from a user named Mikaela that summed it up perfectly:

“I can understand how on face value it just seems polite, but I would argue that’s not true. What is the intent behind the statement? Is it truly intended as a positive affirmation of another person’s existence? Then it shouldn’t matter if the sentiment isn’t returned. Also, if you find it’s unwelcome, are you willing to cease the practice? If not, then might it be a bit self serving feeling the need/right to insert oneself forcefully into another person’s life? That is quite literally the problem we face with rape culture…Now this is an important factor, you have to remember that as a woman walking down the street, yours is not the first last or only ‘hi, have a nice day’ that is forced upon you (and remember women, people of color and LGBTQ are more likely to face street harassment). The first time might not be obtrusive, but the tenth, twentieth, hundredth time is, and that’s what women are asking you to realize…you aren’t the only one trying to talk to her. If you are the kind and courteous person you think you are I believe you’ll understand, then, why the answer is yes, that is harassment. Your intention matters less than what is perceived, and the problem lies in the constant bombardment of comments building up. So no, I don’t think it’s fair to say we teach people social greetings aren’t offensive; just as teaching our young girls to be diligent hasn’t ended rape, because that’s not where the problem lies. The problem is the feeling of male privilege; there are millions of women saying ‘No! It’s not okay!’ and yet we’re still having this conversation.”

Yet some men do it for the hell of it.  During my time working on THE APPRENTICE, I remember being taken aback by how much of a given it was that all production guys would talk about getting pussy.  All those endless car rides where the crew-guys would be in the backseat of the van, swapping sex stories and talking about they had done a girl in her “prison-wallet.”  One time one of the cameramen was talking about how hot a girl who worked in the production building was and insisted he could work his moves on her.  He also happened to be happily married and have two children, but that wasn’t the point.  His goal wasn’t to actually have a relationship with the girl but just to show off that he could pick up a random girl if he wanted to.  He then walked right up to her and started flirting (he ended up creeping her out and failing miserably in his seduction, which was actually pretty funny).

“SO A FEW GUYS WERE ASSHOLES TO HER.  WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?”

Actually, the woman in the video, Shoshana Roberts, has now reportedly received rape threats by men commenting on YouTube.

Other women, worried for their safety, are scared about how they dress.  Catcalling has essentially bullied them from wearing what they want.  Being able to dress one’s self is a basic right of individuality that women are denied in some parts of the world and we have no right to take this away.  Others still have to reroute their whole day.

WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON?

Well, I’m now going to be a nerd now (it’s the name of the blog) and make an analogy using something from popular media: Pink Floyd‘s THE WALL, which I previously wrote an analysis of here.  For those of you unfamiliar with THE WALL’s storyline, it’s very universal: Man is born in an innocent state.  Man encounters various social traumas, many of them directly stemming from the war of the previous generation.  As Man grows up, his idealism is corroded away by the distortions he has grown into, further alienating him from communicating with others.  Each trauma is another brick until eventually Man lives within a Wall.  This anti-social behavior becomes self-perpetuating, and eventually manifests in hatred and racism, the very things that caused the previous generation’s war in the first place.  Only by tearing down the wall can the cycle be broken.

Every single one of us has our own Wall; some build it very high while others live openly.  All forms of harassment and objectification against women, including catcalling, are a disease, caused by a Wall built from a bad mindset and failure to engage socially with women.  In order to kill this demon, we need to tear down the Wall and reexamine our dating mindset and social interactions.

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WHY DO SOME MEN HAVE A KNEE-JERK REACTION TO DEFEND CATCALLING?

For the same reason that Feminism was, and sometimes still is, a dirty word for many people: there’s a misunderstanding that it implies misandry.  Fortunately, as many young people have come to understand, Feminism does not mean Men vs Women.  It means both genders working together for equality.  I am not against Masculinity.  I am against the mindset that sexism and rape culture should be accepted an inherent part of Masculinity.

“You ladies better get used to it,” one male Facebook user commented, “Stop asking men not to be men.  We’re always going to holler and call you sexy.  Deal with it, babe.”  THIS is what we need to change.

The reason many men struggle to comprehend the problem of catcalling comes down to a major difference between the two genders.  Men like to be objectified.  It doesn’t matter if it’s coming from a complete stranger or a woman he feels no attraction for.  I’ve seen several spoof-videos over the years that try to show women catcalling men to make a statement, but they usually fail because there’s no threat of rape conveyed when the genders are reversed.  These spoof-videos usually leave male viewers going “Gee, I wish this were reality.  Women catcalling me all day?  That would be Heaven.”

The only experience for a straight man that could slightly come close to conveying the threat is “What if it were a 6′ muscular gay man that was following and harassing you?”  Even then this scenario isn’t the best analogy, depending on the subject’s physical strength.  Incidentally, I have twice been randomly approached by gay men in NYC who began to get a little inappropriate.  I felt slightly weirded out by the experiences, but certainly not threatened or in fear of rape.

“IT’S NOT HARASSMENT!  IT CAME FROM A GOOD PLACE!”

One of the most powerful speeches I ever heard was from a college speaker discussing apologies.  As he put it: “It’s very easy to apologize in a situation when you are blatantly in the wrong.  If you stole from someone and feel bad about it, the words ‘I’m sorry’ will probably come easily to your lips.  What’s harder is to apologize when you don’t think you’re wrong at all; when you feel the person is just overreacting to something meant innocently and you have nothing to apologize for.  Well, if the end-result is that you hurt someone’s feelings, then you do have something to apologize for.”

It doesn’t matter if what you said was meant as a compliment; if the victim took is as harassment, then you need to acknowledge that that’s what it was.  That’s just a rule of thumb in life.

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

My generation (born post-1980) lives in a perpetual state of arrested development.  With our social media, constant celebration and binge-watching of TV and superhero movies, we’re living in a more infantilized time than ever before, and instead of adults our culture is producing big kids who are very confused.  We embrace progressive values such as the Feminist movement and LGBT rights, yet the amount of gratuitous nudity in our media is at an all-time high.  We shame virginity in men, then turn around and slut-shame women with the same breath.  We use social media to self-produce our own content and create the illusion we’re all celebrities while being anti-social.  We’re always texting, which in theory should have made us a more literate society, yet it has only broken communication down further.  For all the incredible opportunities that modern sciences and technologies have given us, our education level is low and we have really idolized movies, TV, and comic books to a level greater than ever before.  In short, refusing to grow up is encouraged now.

And so, men don’t know how to talk to women anymore.  Tinder and other apps have reduced the criteria down to “If she’s got a face, she’s a hottie.”  Dating is harder than it’s ever been before because everyone has a different definition of what the gender roles are.  A few weeks ago I saw two articles about a man who had published his best tactics for how to pick up women on the street and/or subway.  One article praised him for his successful dating advice while another criticized him for endorsing forms of street harassment.  We’re somewhat confused about what’s appropriate conduct and what isn’t.

One of the stupidest defenses I read from a man was “Catcalling is necessary sometimes.  I know I wouldn’t have been born if not for catcalling.”  Hmm, if he really believes this, it goes to show how little he respects his own mother as a woman.  I am convinced that, no matter what he believes, the reason his mother fell in love with his father was not because he catcalled her on the street.  It was likely because he engaged with her in a romantic way.  But today we no longer know the difference.  The line between Chivalry and Misogyny has become very blurry.

Remember those days of passing notes in seventh grade, telling someone “Hey, I think she likes you!  Go talk to her?”  That is what we’re still living.  We’re refusing to grow up.

DO SOME WOMEN JUMP THE GUN AND IMMEDIATELY LABEL A SITUATION “HARASSMENT” WHEN IT MIGHT NOT BE JUSTIFIED?

Every woman has a different barometer about what is acceptable and what is harassment.  I know one girl who absolutely loves being complemented on her butt by all her male friends, and another girl who ended her friendship with a guy because he made one comment about her having nice feet.  So right off the bat, it’s hard to really define harassment because everyone’s mileage may vary.  Is holding the door for a girl gentlemanly or sexist?  Two women will give you two different answers on that.  And when you’re a guy who wants to talk to a girl and don’t know what her barometer may be, it can be tough.  Let’s say a man writes a love poem for a girl he’s just met.  Some women will find that very chivalrous and others will be creeped out and never talk to that guy again.

One time a female friend told me a story about a man who tried to make conversation with her on the street.  His comments were not sexual; he was simply talking to her.  What his ultimate motives were are unknown, but at the very least, he was definitely trying to ask her out.  After showing lack of interest, which he ignored, my friend eventually commented “You’re making me uncomfortable,” to which the man got upset and said some not-so-nice things.

Now situations like this are hard to pigeon-hole, particularly since I wasn’t there.  On the one hand, it was inappropriate that this happened in the street as opposed to a bar or environment for socializing.  On the other hand, while I wasn’t there, I do genuinely believe that all this guy was doing was just legitimately asking a girl out and failing to pick up on a hint.  Is that harassment?

A MAN’S PERSPECTIVE

This leads into a topic that I feel tends to never gets discussed: how dating in today’s world often hurts a man’s self-esteem.  I do feel that there is a double-standard in how men are expected to be chivalrous and show the utmost tact at all times while women are allowed, sometimes even encouraged, to be rude.  Of course this is not true of all women, and having to tell someone who likes you that you don’t feel the same way is one of the most uncomfortable social situations out there, no matter how you slice it.  Some people handle it well and some don’t.  But my point is that it’s considered socially acceptable for women to be rude here, whether it’s warranted or not, while at the same time holding men to a much higher standard of grace and tact than they are holding themselves to.  I’m sure my female readers will acknowledge that there are indeed times when a nice guy, who really meant well, unfortunately gets spoken to the same as if he were a creep.  Another Facebook user commented: “The truth is that it sucks for the nice guys of the world but too many assholes have ruined common courtesy.”

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HURT FEELINGS

I think that many men feel the same pressure.  We have to constantly prove that we’re not perverts or misogynists.  We’re terrified of talking to girls.  We’re scared that one wrong word will hurt us.  The exact same words that make Betty smile will offend Veronica so badly that she will file a sexual harassment charge against us that will cost us our job, family, and entire future, all because of one verbal faux pas.  Another friend of mine nearly lost his job because when hugging a female coworker (which is something many men are terrified of doing) his hand accidentally landed in the wrong place.  And before anyone accuses him of being a pervert, I do know for a fact it was a mistake.

When we talk to a girl, we are putting ourselves out there.  When we get rejected, it hurts.  We suck it up, tell ourselves that’s just the nature of the game, and move on.  But sometimes it hurts more than other times.  Sometimes the girl is ruder than she needs to be.  The sentiment “Not only do I reject you romantically, but I’m implying that I think you might be a misogynist creep” can feel like it adds insult to injury.  And that leads to the knee-jerk reaction to say “Fuck you, bitch!”

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?

Let’s rewrite Pink Floyd’s THE WALL in this new context:

Man is born innocent, without a trace of sexism or misogyny.  Growing up, he is almost immediately taught that attracting girls is a “conquest” and that he must work on his “game” to do it properly.  The quality of his pick-up line is as important as the size of his dick.  Just being yourself isn’t good enough.  He is told that being a rejected by a woman is the same as having her laugh at his dick-size.

Does Man necessarily believe all of this?  No, but he is always aware of it on a subconscious level.  He grows and enters the world of dating.

Man is about to approach Woman, either in a bar, or on a dating website, or some other public forum where this is acceptable.  Man is feeling tremendous pressure.  He is putting himself out there, to be judged on his appearance and character with the possibility of rejection.  He feels extreme pressure to be chivalrous without being inappropriate.  If he goes too far in one direction, he will labeled a misogynist.  If he goes too far in the other direction, he will be ignored and told he has no “game.”  As the saying goes “Nice guys never get the girl.”  And so the following exchange happens:

MAN: (puts himself out there, struggling to find the fine line between Chivalry and Misogyny)

WOMAN: (rejects him, sometimes politely, sometimes flat out rudely)

MAN: (is hurt, but must put on a big fake Smile.  If he does anything other than wear that Smile, then he will be the one who is labeled “rude” and be harassing her)

Now imagine that Man continues to live out this same scenario with his next attempt at dating, and the next, and the next after that.  All in all, each one is another brick in the wall.

It’s tough to keep wearing that Smile, and eventually he doesn’t handle the rejection gracefully.  He feels “It’s insulting that I have to constantly prove I am not a creep/pervert or else I am treated like one.”  And all the while, society shames him for not getting laid.

Taking rejection personally is the #1 mistake men make.  To all men out there: you WILL have to handle rejection at times.  Let it go.  The bitterness it can causes leads men to lower their standards.  Our tragic hero initially entered the dating arena looking for a relationship.  Ten rejections later he is so bitter that he just wants pussy.  He feels he is owed, and so he catcalls.

And thus is born a self-perpetuating mindset that will lead to the same action repeated over and over.  To those who have asked “What are men thinking when they catcall?” it’s the following:

“Why can’t I just be given the happiness that other men who have girlfriends have?  By rejecting me, she’s telling me I’m not good enough to have a companion in my life.  She doesn’t think I deserve happiness.  Even if I make her uncomfortable, so what?  So she’ll feel uncomfortable for one night; meanwhile, I have to be alone every night of my life.  She’ll never be alone with a body like hers, so the least she can do is sacrifice one night of her life to make me happy.  But no, she’s decided I must live my life in loneliness while she gets to laugh at me.  Well, fuck that cunt!”

Now the Wall is built, and all it results in is the same anti-social pattern.

HOW DO WE FIX THE PROBLEM?

Combating the objectification of women is a discussion that’s been had for decades.  But to specifically end the disease of catcalling, we need to tear down the Wall.  Educate and continue this conversation.  Communicate rather than harass.

When you see someone catcalling, tell them it’s not right and ask what they aim to achieve.  Could their comments, even if meant to be friendly, be alarming?  Inform them and you may discover a friend in that person who had no intention of being creepy and may even apologize.  Men, if you want to pick up a girl, go to a bar or other environment, but don’t do it on the street.  It’s not appropriate on the street and it never will be.  Women, talk about the subject and educate.  Try to be polite.

As for me, I have observed misogyny and seen how it builds in men as a result of the unhealthy mindset.  How did I “tear down the Wall?”  Aside from having many female friends to engage with on a regular basis and listening to their discussions, I would say a breakthrough for me was learning to not take rejection personally.  The bitterness of rejection can so easily become the bricks in the wall.  When I like someone, I don’t feed her a line or put all my feelings of self-worth on the outcome.  I treat her like a person and go from there.  If it doesn’t work out, I take comfort knowing that I was myself and if she didn’t like me, it’s out of my hands.  If she chooses to be rude about it, that can hurt, but I have to let it go.

OUTSIDE THE WALL

There is one comment someone made that I did feel was worth sharing: “While catcalling is a bad thing, let’s not forget all the other cases of rape, assault, and physical abuse against women that occur daily.”  This is a good point.  By drawing attention to this one matter, let’s not dilute our focus.  If you wish to donate or be involved in a charity helping women from all forms of abuse, please support The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network.

I leave you with a parting thought: The next time you feel the urge to catcall, just remember a few things.  Part of every Woman is a mother.  Part of every Woman is an actress.  Part of every Woman is a saint.  Part of every Woman is a sinner.  And part of every Man is a Woman.

This article is dedicated to my mother.

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